Posts Tagged ‘slavery’


Writer-director-star Nate Parker blew the doors off Sundance with this historical epic, which netted a record $17.5 million pickup. The film tells the story of Nat Turner, who led a violent slave revolt in Virginia in 1831, and is filled to the brim with commentary on America’s past, present and future.

While limited by a independent budget, Parker’s camera captures plenty of stomach-churning horrors. Prior to his rebellion, Turner visits neighboring plantations as a preacher-for-hire, providing a window into the disparate treatment eked out by slaveowners reacting and adapting to economic downturn.

The film seems perfectly poised to drop into the current national conversation on race in America. Its rough edges could slow it down in the mainstream market, but it’s a meaningful, boldly-made film with plenty to say.

^That^ is what I wrote about “Birth of a Nation” when I saw it January, back when Nate Parker was the belle of the Sundance ball and before his past as an accused rapist had been shouted from the rafters by dogged and necessary criticism. In the months since, Parker has failed to mitigate those criticisms, instead holding adamant to his acquittal, refusing to apologize for whatever part he played in the victimization of a now-deceased woman  (she committed suicide in 2012) and clinging to his perceived status as a wrongly-accused, innocent man.

The problem, Mr. Parker, is that as one character explained in “Hannibal,” innocent isn’t a verdict, not guilty is.

In light of the off-screen drama that now surrounds “The Birth of a Nation,” the film’s flaws are all-the-more glaring. Under Parker’s relatively inexperienced direction, the movie lacks any subtlety, with its depictions of barbarism delivered as bluntly – and literally – as a hammer to the teeth. There is a dearth of chemistry between the film’s romantic leads, and a stiffness to the dialogue that undercuts the character beats and dramatic tension.

From the lens of a low-budgeted drama by a novice multi-hyphenate director and star, those flaws are forgivable in service of a lesser-known piece of American history worthy of dramatization. But the increasing weight of Parker’s personal issues drags the movie down into the dirt.

For those able to separate art from artist, “The Birth of a Nation” remains and interesting and ambitious project. But for many, and unfortunately for the myriad professionals involved in the making of this film, the quality is not high enough to distract from the mistakes of its director and star.

Grade: B

*The Birth of a Nation opens nationwide on Friday, October 7.


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